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Where there’s smoke, there’s … smoke

My posting of an Atlanta TV station’s “expose” of the Humane Society of the United States — and my labeling of it as shabby journalism — has led to the predictable spate of comments from HSUS-haters.

The WSB-TV report had been removed from the station’s website, and from YouTube as well, after complaints from the HSUS that it was misleading — a bit ironic in that deception is exactly the accusation that the report was making against the HSUS.

Through its name, and its fund-raising efforts, the HSUS leads people to believe that it is associated with local shelters, and that donations will be used to shelter dogs, the report maintained.

As I stated, I thought the report failed to back up any of that “deception,” and was making a very big deal out of a simple, though probably shared by  many, misunderstaning of the organization’s mission. A quick look at the HSUS website shows the kind of work they do, and that they are more about lobbying, enforcement of animal cruelty laws, advocating for animal rights and public education than hands-on sheltering of animals.

But I also thought the “expose’s” disappearance — like any attempt to silence critics — was adding more smoke to the fire, and that, by being able to view it, people could see that there wasn’t any fire there to begin with (except maybe the burning hate some other lobbying groups have for the HSUS because of its animal welfare stands, and its success).

The HSUS says the Center for Consumer Freedom, which they call a deceptively-named front-group for tobacco, alcohol and agribusiness interests, was likely behind the news report.

While taken off YouTube and WSB’s site, the video continued to pop up online — like, in the words of Pet Connection blogger Gina Spadafori, “an Internet game of whack-a-mole.”

Spadafori, by the way, is author of “Dogs for Dummies,” and notes that  even that entry-level primer points out the difference between local shelters and groups like the HSUS.

“This isn’t news … When you give to the HSUS, you’re providing mostly for animal advocacy, lobbying for animal laws and investigations. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.”

The HSUS, meanwhile, has issued a statement about the report, which we print here in its entirety:

“WSB-TV in Atlanta has issued a correction and removed from its Web site a regrettable report regarding The Humane Society of the United States. Sloppily reported, inaccurate in its facts, and based on a faulty premise, this report should never have aired in the first place. But publishing a factual correction on its Web site and removing the report itself from further circulation are important steps in minimizing damage to the reputation of a charity rated four stars, the highest rating possible, by Charity Navigator and one that has a demonstrated an unmatched record of protecting animals from cruelty.

“This story emerged straight out of the playbook of the deceptively named Center for Consumer Freedom, a front-group for tobacco, alcohol and agribusiness interests. David Martosko, who was quoted in the story, has been peddling his poisonous misinformation about us around the nation, as he does with other public interest groups. Regrettably, WSB-TV has been the only reputable news organization to swallow his bait. He has since tried to spread this misinformation under WSB-TV’s banner as widely as possible.

“Before accepting his propaganda at face value, reporters should have determined that Martosko is a hired gun, and nothing more. In a recent radio interview, he said this, ‘You can either lose pretty or win ugly’ when speaking of his efforts to stop us. Unfortunately, WSB-TV allowed itself to be used to foster Martosko’s smears.

“Had WSB-TV reporters checked, they would have quickly discovered that CCF’s stock-in-trade involves taking aim at organizations that promote food safety, public health or animal welfare.

“The organization started with a $600,000 grant from tobacco giant Philip Morris. CCF has attacked the National Cancer Institute, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their anti-drunk driving and public health campaigns. More recently, it has attacked organizations that are fighting childhood obesity. CCF does not disclose its contributors in order to conceal the corporations that pay for these misguided attacks on public interest organizations.

“CCF has been condemned by the editorial boards of USA Today and the Washington Post for misleading the public. ABC News and CBS’s 60 Minutes have also exposed the organization as a front group, and CCF has been legally compelled to recant past false statements they made about us. That’s what reputable news organizations find when they look into CCF—more of a scam, than a source.

CCF and its corporate funders do not like The HSUS’ offensives against factory farming, puppy mills, the exotic pet trade, Canada’s seal slaughter, commercial whaling and other large-scale cruelties. The group attacks The HSUS precisely because we are effective.

“Among the outrageous falsehoods conveyed in this story concerned The HSUS’ response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. The HSUS was recognized nationwide for its enormous deployment in response to the crisis created by Katrina. Since Sept. 1, 2005, The HSUS has committed or spent more than $34 million on general disaster relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast states, the enhancement of its disaster response capacities, and the transformation of public policy concerning animals in disaster. The most recent accounting is available to the public on our Web site. Simple fact checking would have turned up this information, as would a simple phone call to us about CCF’s false claims.

“On Monday night, the station posted this on its website:

“We have a clarification to make about our story on the Humane Society of the United States. WSB-TV reported that HSUS spent almost $7 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina. HSUS says all $34 million of the funds raised in the wake of Katrina are tracked on its web site in a detailed report. If you would like to see their (sic) entire report, CLICK HERE.

“The line of argument that we did not spend money properly was originally promoted by Louisiana cockfighters, CCF, and other political opponents of ours, and never had a basis in fact. These groups exhibited little knowledge of our actual spending practices — they just did not like the level of public support and media attention we received during the Katrina crisis. The HSUS and state authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi work very closely on disaster planning and response and we continue to fund a range of projects to help shelters, vet schools, and other institutions in the Gulf Coast. The HSUS is the lead disaster response agency for animals in the nation. Also wholly false was WSB-TV’s report that most of HSUS spending is for lobbying. In accordance with the law, we spend only a small percentage of our resources on lobbying. Since the station’s account quoted from our annual report, one might expect a responsible journalist to read a few pages deeper to find the truth. The amount spent on lobbying by The HSUS in 2007: less than 5 percent. The dollar figures are in black and white on our own Web site, available publicly in our IRS filings. Rarely is journalism so breathtakingly wrong when the facts so easily at hand.

“Besides factual errors, the entire tenor of the WSB-TV report was a gross distortion. Reporters attended a single meeting organized in Georgia as a “Lobby Day at the State Capitol.” Apparently from this, they came to the conclusion that The HSUS does nothing but lobbying. Make no mistake, we hold many other events: disaster preparedness training, animal sheltering, law enforcement training, seminars on the connection between animal cruelty and domestic violence, and more.

“The faulty reasoning behind the WSB-TV story was that the only valid use of donations for animal protection work is local sheltering. This reflects a woefully naïve understanding of animal protection. People donate to The HSUS for other charitable purposes, including innovative programs that take place Atlanta and in cities across America. For instance, The HSUS has an animal-fighting hotline for Georgia residents to report dogfighting activity and we offer up to $5,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions in dogfighting cases. We’ve paid rewards and provided information to law enforcement agencies resulting in seven dogfighting busts in Georgia alone. We also run a community-based program that reaches young people on the streets of Atlanta to make sure they don’t get involved in dogfighting in the first place.

“The HSUS has invested millions of dollars in local spay and neuter programs, and is about to launch a national public service campaign encouraging people to adopt dogs and cats from their local animal shelters. We gave more than $6 million in direct grants to those organizations in 2007 alone, and provide extensive ongoing training, evaluations and other support. The HSUS also operates a network of animal care centers, provides rural veterinary services throughout the country, and offers a range of other hands-on programs. In 2008, we rescued and/or cared for 70,460 animals. We also work with law enforcement agencies to rescue animals from dogfights, puppy mills and other large-scale cruelties. In 2007, 84 percent of our costs were spent on animal-protection programs.

“If this was not enough, CCF’s mouthpiece Martasko made the reckless and false claim that The HSUS pays “enormous salaries.” He knows – and WSB-TV should have found out – that salaries paid to employees of The HSUS are lower than comparable sized organization. The HSUS’s President and CEO, for instance, is paid less than his counterparts at any comparably sized organization in the U.S. And there are much smaller humane organizations – some with only one-tenth the budget of The HSUS – who pay their top executive more than our CEO.

“CCF’s online hit squad has tried to ratchet up the fever, even suggesting that The HSUS provides a “mansion” for its CEO. That’s pure bunk – just like most everything from these paid shills. The HSUS does not provide any housing for its executives. Period.

“The plain fact is that CCF exists for one reason. Its backers cannot step into the sunlight and defend the cruelty they inflict on animals for the sake of profit margins. Its backers are afraid to stand in the open and debate the humane treatment of animals. They cannot show their faces because their customers will run from them. So they hire hate mongers like those at CCF to try and change the subject. So let’s be clear. We operate in the sunshine of transparency. They hide in the shadows. We speak for animals and the humane treatment of animals. They hope to distract Americans from the real point. We thank you for your help in proving them wrong for the sake of animals. Please visit our Web site to find out more or get involved in our work.”


Comment from Shades of gray
Time May 29, 2009 at 9:33 am

Good article. No organization is perfect and that certainly includes the HSUS. I feel that the good they do outweighs the problems. Thanks for sharing.

Comment from gail
Time May 29, 2009 at 1:38 pm

HSUS would definately know of smoke since they sit in the middle of the fire. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) does not operate a single pet shelter anywhere in the US.

Comment from Ginger
Time May 29, 2009 at 3:27 pm

I’ve seen the news story in question and I think this post makes the story sound very different than it actually is. While not flattering, it is not, imo, wildly inaccurate. It is full of reasons to take a closer look at HSUS and examine their wording very carefully. No question about it the general public does not understand the disconnect between the mission of HSUS and their local shelters. I give locally for a reason. Once $ is gone to a national HSUS mission, donors feel they have done their part – not their fault they’ve accidentally bypassed the local shelter and the problems in their own backyard. A classic example of “if you knew better you would do better”. Not slamming HSUS but just saying donors should read the fine print – if you are concerned about animals locally (where the majority of abandoned/abused animals are cared for), please keep your money with local organizations that have hands-on contact with those animals.

Comment from Shades of gray
Time May 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Google Kennewick puppy mill in the news today and you’ll see the the local people of Kennewick WA care about what happens to the animals there and how HSUS and other organizations helped in ways that no small shelter could ever have done.